I can’t believe that we have come and gone from another city in our adventure through Laos! We have spent the last two days is Luang Prabang, getting here was no easy task…
Imagine yourself on a roller coaster, one with a wooden bench, lots of sharp turns, sudden stops and bumps along the way…now add 9 hours to that ride and you will understand a small piece of what we endured after leaving Vientiane. A combination of driving between “Fast and furious” and “Mad Max” one would understand why I was so tired upon arrival.
The drive was beautiful though – looking past the constant heart palpitations one might receive as a passenger – the view during the drive was all worth it! We drove past tiny villages strung along the main road and all covered with dust, to large mansions – reserved only to those who can afford that lifestyle, to small schools with children riding their motorbikes or cycle home for lunch before having to return to their desks.
Along the way we decided to detour from the road and hopped a boat ride up the river. Though it was a short trip it was amazing to see another aspect to daily life here for some people, a few we never would have seen had we stuck to the road. Fishermen huts – partly sunken by the high water levels or women rinsing their clothes out on the river shores. You have to think – these people’s entire lives is dictated and ruled by the river. The money they make and the food they eat is all provided from the river or the land. Boys who turn to men have spent their whole lives reading the river and understanding flow patterns , fishing holes and how to ride the shores without bottoming out the boat.
It is so interesting to see the differences in cities from different regions of a country, just like in the United States – visiting Seattle will be very different from visiting New Orleans. Of course, here is no different.
Luang Prabang is one of the cities that has the biggest thumb print of French influence in Laos and is also known for the Royal history that is present here as well. Luang Prabang was the ancient royal capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom until King Phothisarat moved the administrative seat to Vientiane in 1545. Regardless of the movement of the capital, it has continued to overlook Vientiane as the destination of choice with its amalgamation of crumbling French architecture, glistening temples and extensive natural beauty…and I can see why.
Walking down the main street I kept feeling like I had been there before, the streets reminded me so much of being in Key West! The French influenced architecture still remains predominate even with stones wearing away after years of being worn down from the weather.
It didn’t take us long to find everything, it is a small town with two main streets in the heart of the city. As the sun started to set I became more and more excited…The night market was about to open! I have been reading about this market for months now and I knew that this was going to be one of the better markets for quality and the diversity of the items being sold. The main street became smaller and smaller as vendors were sitting up their booths and motorists were still trying to use the roadway! Madness all around and before I knew it we were in the full swing of the market!
There are hundreds of reasons why I love a good market but I have to say in my top five reasons why – in a foreign country – is the languages you hear! In a short amount of time being at the market I must have heard at least 15+ different languages as groups of people passed by…You can’t beat that feeling of being in the center of the world!
Looking through all of the beautifully weaved, carved, spun and crafted items I noticed a trend all of the shop keepers were doing after making a sale. Once they received the money from a sale they would slap the money over the rest of their items. After seeing this a number of times I had to finally ask what the purpose of this was, I was told by a young woman selling silk scarves that it is a sign of good luck – asking that with each sale there would be another to follow it.
Everything in these people’s lives revolves around good vibes, karma and good luck! I am amazed on how even on small things in their daily lives they apply these core values. After walking another 10,000 steps through the market it was time to kick my feet up for the night.
The next morning started early with the sound of beating drums coming from the temple next to our hotel. I nearly leapt out of bed! At dawn every day the monks from all of the temples along the main road go out to collect alms from the locals who line the sidewalks giving the laypeople the opportunity to make merit.
I was so excited about this ceremony! I have been reading and researching this daily occurrence for months now waiting to get the perfect shot and today was finally the day! Loading up the family I rushed them out the door, eager not to miss a thing. The dawn hadn’t touched the horizon when we made it outside but just like me the sun was eager to start the day!
It is such an honor to watch different cultures and beliefs take place before your eyes. I have been blessed to see the world and entails seeing countless religions, cultures, clothing, food, dances, and a myriad of other things that diversify us from one another – and that is one of the most fascinating things to me!
After the monks had finished their collections and the locals packed up we went back to the hotel for breakfast. We would need a good meal to take on the day! After filling our tummies with some amazing local fruits, coffee and the hot breakfast served we set off!
Knowing this next location was going to be a time consumer we started at the Royal Palace Museum. I have seen palaces before, but there was a level of decadence to the decor that put all other palaces to shame!
Little note: while visiting Laos it would be a huge time saver for you to buy comfortable slip on shoes or sandals – 90% of the buildings you will want to visit you will have to take off our shoes
Walking onto the marble steps onto the nearly glass-like-polished wood into the ruby red room I nearly did a double take as I tried to take in every detail in the room. Instead of painted sections of the wall like you would see with beautiful murals, these walls were covered with ancient stories and legends from Laos folklore all pieced together in glass mosaic! (Note: if you are carrying your children in a carrier even they will have to take off their shoes as well)
(With no cameras allowed in the building the image above was found in the online the archives – but you had to see this!)
Next on the list was…nothing! I had all of these places that I had marked I wanted to visit but when we actually were there all I wanted to do was just wander around! We floated in and out of shops, taking in all of the sights, sounds and smells of each shop. Down main street we meandered – no where to be and all day to get there. We caught a glimpse of the river and decided to make a sharp right turn. this is when we found the bamboo bridge that takes you across the river to “old town”. This bridge only exists 6 months out of the year the rain washes it away or damages it beyond use.
Visiting Old Town was like visiting another world within a world. A jungle mixed with a third-world country, like seeing a house made of rubbage and scrap metal covered in vines (with a GIANT satellite out front..mmmh curious?) But this is where some of the women of Luang Prabang, who are renowned weavers do their best work. Visiting their “studio” where the women will spend 5 days on a single item.
There wasn’t much to see in old town unless you were hiking out to the jungle or were staying on that side. Thinking it was about time for lunch we settled into cushioned seats at a restaurant looking over the river.
Tips for Families: families of any sizes or ages have no fear about traveling to the beautiful Laos! Children of all ages are gladly accepted and welcomed, Harmony has been the hit of the town…all of them since arriving! And most places children under a certain age are free to enter.
Time to head back to the other side! We were told several times about a hill in the center of town that you can climb and you can see a full 360 degrees of the city with a view to die for…this sounds like my kind of place to visit! Already sweaty and tired I almost considered reconsidering climbing the hill at this point in the afternoon, painfully I decided that ‘you only live once’ and we were leaving the next day leaving today to see and do everything we want.
Carpe Diem! – Seize the Day – and up we went! As we were climbing with a baby on my front and a backpack on my dad’s back we were both taking our time up the verticle climb, thinking the climb was going to be longer we set in for the worst…until we realized that we were nearly at the top already!The view was well worth the climb, rivers and mountains with red top roofs it almost looked like I was in a tropical version of Italy! The climb down brought a cool breeze which couldn’t have picked a better moment to start.
Checking items off the list of places we had visited – it was already time for dinner! Every night around the corner from the night market is the “night buffet”. An alley way over flowing with a different kinds of foods to be tried.Sounds like a job for me!
Moving on to the next city and more to come later…
Traveling Photographer Out!